Larry Bird Was Delivered a Note During a Game, Shook His Head, and Spurned History: ‘That’s Not Why I Play’
The 1985 Boston Celtics were a force, while the Utah Jazz were just starting to come into their own. Larry Bird was fresh off the first of his three straight MVPs, and the Celtics had just knocked off the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals.
The game on Feb. 18, 1985, went as expected. The Celtics traveled to Utah and held a 34-10 lead after one quarter, setting the tone for a long night for the Jazz. During the game, Bird was handed a note while on the bench. He just shook his head and said thanks, but no thanks.
Boston Celtics star Larry Bird was at the peak of his career during the 1984-85 NBA season
The Celtics dominated the early and mid-1980s with Bird leading the charge. In his second year with the team, they knocked off the Houston Rockets in the 1981 NBA Finals. Three years later, they were back in the championship series. In fact, the Celtics were a Finals participant each year from 1984-87.
Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish formed arguably the best frontcourt in NBA history and won three titles together. Boston’s starting five consisted of four Hall of Famers during their championship run in the mid-’80s. Bird was the best of the group, winning his first MVP during the 1983-84 season.
During the 1985-86 season, Bird struggled with his shooting as he was bothered by a back injury.
“There’s no question that I’m struggling,” Bird said, according to the Sun Sentinel in December 1985. “I know I’m missing layups and baskets underneath that I normally hit. But I’ve had to work hard at my game. I don’t have the skills that a lot of other players do.”
He bounced back to finish the season with his third straight MVP and his third championship.
Bird played 13 years in the NBA and was a 12-time All-Star. For his career, he averaged 24.3 points and 10.0 rebounds. The 1980 Rookie of the Year was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1998.
Larry Bird ignored the chance to make history against the Utah Jazz in 1985
In that 1985 game at Utah, Bird outscored the entire Jazz team in the first quarter, prompting then-Jazz coach Frank Layden to say, “Forget Boston, let’s beat Bird,” according to the Deseret News.
Utah hadn’t hit the John Stockton/Karl Malone phase just yet as Stockton was in his rookie season. Malone joined the following year.
Utah was 25-28 heading into the game, while the Celtics were 43-11. Boston took charge from the beginning, led by Bird. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Celtics held a 90-68 lead, and Bird already had a triple-double with 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. He also had nine steals.
No player in league history had a quadruple-double with that combination. Nate Thurmond in 1974, according to the Deseret News, had put up the NBA’s only quadruple-double, but his consisted of points, rebounds, assists, and blocks.
The stat crew sent a note over to Celtics coach K.C. Jones, who delivered the message to Bird on the bench. The Celtics star shook his head and never got off the bench. He let the 12 minutes pass without shooting for a spot in the record books.
After the game, reporters surrounded Bird to ask his thoughts on forgoing the rare feat.
“That’s not why I play,” he said.
While Bird got most of the recognition, he was the ultimate team player
Bird played the game the right way. He didn’t need another entry in the record books. For Larry Legend, basketball was a team sport, and he never was comfortable with individual recognition.
Bird sometimes questioned all the media attention he received.
“I was never really uncomfortable with them,” he said of the media, according to The Los Angeles Times. “It was just a case of everybody wanting to talk to me and not with the guys I was playing with. They work hard, too. They deserve to get a little sugar.”
The attention he received, however, was well-deserved. Bird turned around a struggling Celtics franchise, making it a dominant force throughout the ’80s.
His lone year without All-Star recognition was when he was limited to six games after undergoing surgery on both heels. He bounced back in the 1989-90 season with another All-Star year, averaging 24.3 points and 9.5 rebounds.
His last two years were hampered by back injuries — the only thing that slowed him down in his illustrious career.